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4 Ways Fifty Shades is a ripped-off version of Secretary

That’s right, E.L.James fans — Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t the first, or necessarily even the best, erotic romance featuring a dom/sub relationship to grace Hollywood’s screens.

We’re all in support of a good-natured Fifty Shades fangasm, but fans of the series should know that before Jamie Dornan stepped into Christian Grey’s controlling shoes, James Spader stepped into Edward Grey’s in the 2002 film, Secretary.

And if you think it’s interesting that both of these domineering men share the same last name, you’ll be more than fascinated by the other things these films have in common.

Both films feature a meek woman who meets, and falls for, a powerful man


Image: Lions Gate Entertainment

In Secretary, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lee Holloway, a troubled young woman who cuts herself whenever she feels overwhelmed. Since her family life is basically a mess, that’s alarmingly often. After taking a job at the mysterious Edward Grey’s office, and being introduced to the world of BDSM, she finds that her desire for pain can be healing when delivered by a loving hand.

More: What is BDSM all about?

In Fifty Shades, Anastasia is a timid and shy woman who decides to try BDSM because she’s attracted to a man who is a dedicated practitioner.

In both cases, the female character is already submissive, leading the Mr. Greys to pursue her.

Both men are powerful, but lonely

Christian Grey

Image: Universal Pictures

While Edward Grey doesn’t have as much money as the entrepreneurial Christian Grey (and let’s be honest, who does?), the two are both powerful men with successful businesses who should be happy, but ultimately aren’t because… something is missing. That something, it turns out, in both cases is a woman who understands and can meet their sexual needs.

The biggest difference between the Mr. Greys is how they each feel about their desires. In Secretary, Grey is ashamed of himself, leaving Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character to embolden her Mr. Grey to embrace his sexual proclivities. In the Fifty Shades trilogy, Mr. Grey is the one driving the BDSM angle, doing his best to convince Anastasia to embrace a submissive role.

Both films tell a story about sexual awakening, but…


Image: Lions Gate Entertainment

Both movies offer us insight into each character’s sexuality, which leads to a sort of sexual revolution as each person opens himself/herself up to new possibilities. The biggest difference between Fifty Shades and Secretary, though, is the way in which BDSM is treated. In the first, it’s treated like a sexy sideshow, but in the latter, it’s shown as the meeting (and healing) place for two long-suffering souls. In that regard, one could argue that Secretary is more about sexual healing, whereas Fifty Shades focuses on sexual spelunking.

More: Fifty Shades cuts controversial tampon scene — read the excerpt now

50 Shades of Grey

Image: Universal Pictures

Perhaps the most important difference here is that Secretary isn’t trying to sell BDSM as relationship spice. Gyllenhaal’s character, for instance, mails her Mr. Grey a dead worm in order to raise his controlling ire. She types up the most perfect memo she possibly can and then makes (and does not correct) an error in order to get spanked. Her submissive personality is at once turned on and soothed by Mr. Grey telling her how many peas she can eat or how much ice cream to enjoy, and when she sits at his desk for three days straight as a symbol of her love and commitment, Spader’s Grey rewards her with pure unadulterated dotage.

In Fifty Shades, we trade these awkward, tender and sometimes unbelievably vulnerable moments in for more raw physicality, which reinforces the BDSM-for-shock-value element inherent to the franchise. We also get more sex than Secretary delivers, though, and — let’s be honest — who wants to complain about that?

Taking some of the fear out of BDSM

Secretary Saddle Scene

Image: Lions Gate Entertainment

There is a lot of sensuality (and humor) in watching Gyllenhaal and Spader’s characters discover their common interests in Secretary. While Spader’s Grey is further along than Lee, sexually speaking, he is in no way ready to own it and instead harbors a deep-seated self-loathing for “the way he is.” Watching Secretary‘s Grey and Lee negotiate the rules of their relationship, without either one really understanding what kind of relationship they are in, creates a truly moving and emotionally cathartic story arc while still being sexy.

Fifty Shades of Grey - Blindfold

Image: Universal Pictures

In Fifty Shades, the sex is more clearly written on the wall, with the goal of the film being to titillate its audience. Anastasia comes to BDSM not out of her own needs or desires, but out of a desire to satisfy her Mr. Grey. Her journey as a woman studying BDSM under the tutelage of someone who has already committed to the lifestyle in order to satisfy him makes her story less about self-discovery and more about discovering how to make Christian Grey happy.

More: Fifty Shades quiz — are you a dom, sub or something in between?

While the films obviously have a great deal in common, there’s no denying that both films serve as tasty hors d’oeuvres for people interested in BDSM or people who are just looking for new ways to heat up their sex lives. We’re pretty sure watching either film will leave you feeling a little more than hot under the collar and, in the end, isn’t that exactly what you’re looking for?

Fifty Shades of Grey hits theaters Feb. 13, but you can watch Secretary any time on VOD and Digital HD.

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